As a lover of all things paranormal, it’s no surprise that New Orleans, Louisiana is easily one of my favorite places in the world to spend a day. Not only is the city home to some of the South’s best food, booze, and offbeat attractions, but you can’t throw a beignet without hitting a haunted building.
There are so many bucket list haunted locations in NOLA that it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed on an adventure through the city, so we decided to hit the cobblestone streets of the French Quarter to bring you a definitive guide to communing with New Orleans’ most famous ghosts in one afternoon.
Jackson Square is the proverbial heart of the French Quarter, and the best place to begin any paranormal adventure through the Big Easy. One of the infamously haunted sections of the French Quarter, Jackson Square is said to be haunted by pirates, slaves, nuns, and aristocrats, and its location makes it the perfect place to meet up with some spooky friends, establish your plan of attack, and charge into the city on-foot, which is exactly what you’re about to do.
Next up is St Louis Cathedral, haunted by the spirit of priest Pere Dagobert, who has been heard for by visitors for nearly two-hundred years singing “Kyrie” from one of the spires. Pere, who was much loved in New Orleans, became famous after secretly burring the bodies of rebel leaders who were executed after plotting to overthrow the Spanish Governor Don Antonio du Ulloa.
Two other famous ghosts who are said to haunt the churches bell tower are Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the tower’s designer, and clockmaker Jean Dalachaux. For years, locals and tourists alike have reported hearing the sound of men’s voices drifting from the haunted tower, and out into Jackson Square below.
There were two places I was most excited about visiting, and the LaLaurie Mansion was one of them. This massive square residence was once owned by Madame Delphine LaLaurie, full-time New Orleans aristocrat and deranged murderer. For years, the southern belle hid a bonafide torture chamber in her attic where she would torture, humiliate, and eventually murder slaves.
It wasn’t until a kitchen fire uncovered the chamber that anyone discovered what kind of hellish activities were happening behind the doors of the LaLaurie Mansion. Some say upwards of fifty-four people were brutally murdered in Delphine’s attic torture chamber, which today has been turned into an apartment building. The mansion is said to still be haunted by the lady of the house herself, and many of the poor souls who lost their lives at her hand.
The Jean Lafitte Blacksmith Shop was built between 1722 and 1732 and has since gained a reputation as one of the most haunted locations in the Big Easy. Not only is the blacksmith shop rumored to be America’s oldest structure being used as a bar, it’s also one of the oldest buildings in the French Quarter, having narrowly escaped two great fires.
Reportedly haunted by the Lafitte Brothers, the shop has a rich history full of unforgettable ghosts stories and more history than you can shake a stick at.
“You have invisible hands that might grab at your cocktails, or sometimes other body parts,” one tour guide reported. “You have disembodied voices that sometimes call you near the piano. They’ve been known to tinkle a few ivories on its own. So we’ve seen apparitions. We’ve heard them. We’ve felt them. We’ve seen things move around. This is a great place.”
There’s never a point during the day when the Blacksmith Shop isn’t busy, so the earlier you get there the better.
Perhaps the most bucket-listed spot for ghost geeks headed to New Orleans is the infamous St Louis Cemetery #1, located on the outskirts of the French Quarter. I know it was mine.
Let’s get this out of the way first: since last year, thanks to an increase in vandalism, there’s no admittance to St. Louis Cemetery #1 without a tour guide. There’s security posted at the gate, and unless you have a loved-one buried in the cemetery, you aren’t getting in unless you’re part of a tour.
There’s no shortage voodoo, ghost, and history-themed tours that will allow you to poke around the cemetery, but we highly recommend Save Our Cemeteries, a non-profit run by history nerds who love the cemetery and want to see it protected for years to come. You might not get a costumed guide telling over the top tales, but you’ll get the honest truth about the history and legends and, most importantly, know that your cash is going to a good cause.
Cemetery #1 is everything you hoped it would be. Rows upon rows of above-ground tombs, each belonging to nuns who ran local orphanages, broken-hearted southern bells, to tens of thousands of plague victims who lost their lives under some of the worst environmental conditions imaginable.
There’s plenty of notable figures buried within the cemetery walls (including the future tomb of Nicholas Cage), but the grave you’re likely most excited about visiting is that of Marie Laveau, voodoo queen and New Orleans’ infamous Mambo.
Here’s where things get interesting. There’s a grave that has Marie Laveau’s name on it, and chances are good that your guide will head straight there, but there’s a rumor that the voodoo queen isn’t actually buried there. You should know that there’s another secret grave hidden away on the right hand side of cemetery #1 that is supposedly the true tomb… and we found it.
The previous pictures show her official tomb, but her unofficial tomb? It looks like this:
If you find the chance to duck off the main walkway and veer to the right, you’ll see this famous above-ground grave covered with graffiti that reads “XXX”. It’s kind of hard to miss. This is allegedly the true grave of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau, and when you visit, don’t forget to leave her some tobacco, rum, and sea shells.
There are a lot of bars to choose from while visiting NOLA, but there are few with the reputation that the Old Absinthe House has. Nicknamed the “Heart and Soul of the Quarter,” not only is the legendary bar one of the most haunted watering holes in America, its been in operation for almost 200 years.
Built in 1806 by Pedro Front and Francisco Juncadelia, in 1860 the bar officially became an “absinthe house”, but by 1912 the authorities threatened to burn the whole building to the ground if they didn’t stop serving the illegal drink. The owners did what they had to, and in the dead of night, they moved the famous copper-colored wooden bar to a secret warehouse, where they opened up shop again and continued to serve the illegal drink. Years later, the legendary copper bar was returned to its original home where it still sits today.
There’s a saying at the Absinthe House: “anyone who has ever been anyone has drank at the Old Absinthe House”, and they have a point. From serving drinks to Jean Lafitte to Marie Laveau herself, this is easily the most legendary dive bar on Bourbon, and worth a visit even to say you’ve had a drink there. They make a mean Bloody Mary.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only one of the most beautiful churches in NoLa, it was also one of the most important. You see, summer in old school New Orleans was plague season, every single year. Many years ago, when the citizens of the Big Easy had to worry about the plague, the church’s morgue tunnel was a heavily-used mode of transportation straight to the other side. Hundreds of thousands of bodies were taken from the city, through the church passageway, and into St Louis Cemetery #1, where most were buried in mass graves.
Quite often, people will report seeing the ghost of a nun who transports the bodies from one end of the above-ground tunnel to the other, and when you consider just how many bodies were taken from the church to Cemetery #1, there’s no doubt that some of the unfortunate plague victims might still call the church home.
Everyone who visits the French Quarter is probably headed to Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Shop, and though that’s totally understandable (and you should be visiting Voodoo Authentica instead), there’s another understated building that was a big piece of Laveau’s history in the city of New Orleans. If you’re looking for a real piece of Mambo’s history, swing past 1020 Rue Street on your way to Cemetery #1.
For over fifty years, NOLA’s voodoo queen called this inconspicuous blue house on Rue Street her home, raising many of her children here. You won’t find much more than a plaque and a strange sense of of a ghostly presence here, but the location is well worth a quick stop and provides a photo op that everyone else seems to miss.
New Orleans is full of rich, well-preserved history that effortlessly provides any history and haunting nerd an opportunity to cross off a bucket-list moment nearly every turn. If you’re thinking about visiting New Orleans, do it, and though there are plenty of amazing tours and ghost hunts to choose from, take the time to go on an adventure, visit these locations on your own, and make an entire afternoon out of it.